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Knowsley Council agree plan to protect services for young children and families

Knowsley Council has agreed a plan which will protect children’s centre services for young children and families in Knowsley.

In order to protect the children’s centre services, which are a valued resource for many local families, especially those with young children, the council has undertaken a thorough review of the locations of buildings where these services are delivered. Many of the buildings and locations used across the borough are underused and expensive to run. This review has identified where services are best delivered to provide both value for money and easy access for those who use them.

Knowsley families have had the opportunity to express their views as part of a consultation exercise.  Families were invited to take part in a survey (which ran from 21 February until 21 March 2018), seeking their views on what services they use and where they use them. A total of 238 responses were received which has helped to inform the proposals.

Using the findings from the review and feedback from families, the council is proposing to continue the delivery of services but across fewer buildings in the borough. Two current facilities, which are both under used, have been identified as potentially suitable for de-designation for another use. This would involve families accessing the services in alternative locations in the immediate vicinity. This would realise a cost saving, through the reduction in running costs and maintenance of the premises identified which would in turn ensure the quantity and quality of the actual services provided are not adversely affected.

If agreed, this would be achieved in phases this year and next.

In the first phase, the Northwood site in Kirkby situated in the Northwood Primary school building and The New Horizon site in Huyton have been identified as centres where usage is particularly low.

In both of these buildings, around a third of the overall space is vacant and the services local families value would be accessible at other nearby children’s centres and in other local community buildings in the area.

The intention is to ensure the buildings are maintained for services for children and families and work is underway with schools and childcare providers in the area to secure the future use of these buildings.

A third centre, Southmead Children’s Centre in Whiston has also been identified for possible de-designation but any plans to progress with this have been postponed for at least 18 months. In this case there are many major housing developments underway or planned in the area and it is felt that this delay will allow the service to identify any potential opportunities to increase usage in existing and new community settings

Further public consultation will take place in the autumn ahead of any proposed phase two de-designation of centres with low usage.

It’s also been proposed the profit-making nursery providers located at children’s centres settings in Knowsley will be charged a fair and competitive market rental as to date each provider has been charged a peppercorn rent in line with the strategy of encouraging childcare provision in local communities with challenges.

Cllr Margaret Harvey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “At a time when so many other local authorities are struggling to maintain their children’s centre service at all, continuing to deliver Knowsley’s services is a priority for the council and the services that our children and families need will continue to be delivered.

“We have committed to maintain the same current level of service for our children and families, but due to the Government’s drastic funding cuts, we have to look at where these valued services should be delivered – the physical buildings and locations used across the borough with many being under-used and expensive to run. Importantly, the services we provide will not be affected.

“People shouldn’t be worried – we know how important the services and support we provide is and the de-designation of the Northwood and New Horizon sites will ensure these services continue to be delivered. This is about protecting frontline services for our children and families in Knowsley.”

Approval for the council’s proposals will now be sought from the Department for Education.

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